Interview: Geoff Ellis

As the founder of T In The Park music festival, perhaps it’s not altogether surprising to find that Geoff Ellis’ musical knowledge simply pours out of him. Geoff’s an Englishman, but – having been resident in Scotland for over a decade – feels a massive affiliation with the local scene. In fact, you get the impression that if anyone’s strumming away anywhere on his patch, Geoff probably knows about it. His latest piece of musical flamboyance is Homecoming Live, a new festival in Glasgow with an ambitious aim that extends not just to music, but to developing a whole new attitude to Scottish nationalism and St Andrew’s Day. Geoff and his team aim to showcase the abundance of talented Scottish musicians, and have aptly scheduled it all for the weekend before Scotland’s national day, this coming Saturday. State had the chance to catch up with a busy but forthcoming Geoff about how it’s all coming on and found – when talking music – the boss is in his element’¦

So, how did Homecoming Live come together?
Well, the original idea was to produce a festival about other elements of Scottish culture, but I put in a proposal pointing out how important music is in Scotland, and it went from there, we started looking for bands. We looked into getting a lot of bands back together, and a few said that hell will freeze over before that happens, but we managed to persuade a few. Then we bought in lots of new bands as well, like Twin Atlantic, The Dykeenies, The View and Tommy Riley, just to get a balance. It’s difficult as we only have one fixed date, so obviously you lose a lot of people who are initially enthusiastic, like Paolo Nutini and Simple Minds, because unfortunately their time on tour in the UK didn’t fit with this. There have been a few people we’d like to have got but we didn’t. Some others just weren’t in a live frame of mind, like Glas Vegas and Amy McDonald, who are both writing at the moment. But I think we put together a pretty good representation of all the Scottish acts. To get bands like Teenage Fanclub and The Vaseline is fantastic. Kurt Cobain always said that The Vaselines inspired Nirvana, which is obviously a great recommendation. Scottish artists over the decades have been a huge influence, and we’re looking forward to presenting that this Saturday. It should be a fantastic evening.

Apart from being Scottish, what are the criteria for choosing acts for an event like this?
Well, we did ask a lot of people with Scottish connections. But we have to try and hang it together a bit, so when Deacon Blue confirmed, we had to get a suitable selection of bands in the Aztec Camera kind of area to put on with them. The same goes for new age and The Skids, and the Idlewild/ The View/ The Dykeenies combo. Being Scottish is obviously important, but we didn’t ask just anyone, you have to hang everything together, otherwise it puts people off.

Are there any special surprises planned?
They’ll be a lot of collaborations, with two or three or four acts coming together for a finale, though I don’t know exactly what they’re going to be playing. I think they’ll be some good surprises.

Is it important to talk up St. Andrews Day?
Well I was obviously born in England’¦ but we’ve seen what the Irish have done with St Patrick’s Day, it’s a fantastic day. St Andrew’s Day has never been celebrated to the same degree in Scotland. We were trying to make St Andrew’s weekend a much bigger event, so this year there’s a whole host of gigs going on up and down the country. We should celebrate St Andrews Day in Scotland. I think one of the reasons it’s not done is November’s not a natural time of year for a festive occasion, it’s cold and dark, but Christmas seems to work. I think if you can get it into people psyche that St Andrew’s Day is the start of the build up to Christmas, it could become the start of a month of office parties and general shenanigans. I’d like it to be as big as St Patrick’s Day, though obviously that’s an international event, but we’re hoping this will be the first year that St Andrew’s Day will be celebrated more locally than St Patrick’s Day.

Do you feel the same about St George’s Day?
I think it’s difficult to say in England we should be celebrating St George’s in quite the same way. But the Scottish are very proud to be Scottish.

Do you have the chance to enjoy the festival yourself?
Well on the day it flies by, and I’ll be attending an awards ceremony the night before so I’ll probably be quite tired, but adrenaline will keep me going. I hope to see as many of the acts as I can, and the halls are quite close together. But my job’s really done by the time they open the doors. Then it’s down to the bands.

Has the economy proved a problem in terms of ticket sales?
Obviously we wish it wasn’t a recession, that’s definitely made it harder, but actually the media’s interpretation has been more of a problem. Unfortunately some of the media have tried to make this into a political event, too, which it’s not, and never has been. We do have funding for the event from the government, but that’s something we have to have. There’s no way we could have bands of this quality without it; the ticket price is only £20, and individually most of these acts would cost at least £15, so to make to work you need some funding. The music journalists have written about the music not at the politics, so recently it’s been great. I don’t think it’s about politics at all, and I don’t think the audience do, either, but the more they read about it being political’¦ people start to think it must be. I think we’ve suffered a bit from that and from the recession, but it probably makes you work that bit harder. We’ll have 6,000 plus people. We’ve bought in specialist food producers that we use at T in the Park, oyster producers, etc. We’re opening everything at four, starting at five and making it a full evening, which should help, too, with both atmosphere and income.

T in the Park’s always had quite a special relationship with the punters, why do you think that is?
I think a lot of it’s a sense of ownership. I put on T in the Park, but the festival very much belongs to the audience, they’re very passionate. We’ve always engaged with the audience. If they want more toilets, more bars, more quiet zones in the campsite’¦ we try to put as much of that into practise as we can, and listen to feedback about the line up. To top answer on our surveys about change is usually that people want nothing changed. I mean, people will have a joke about it and say make everything free and stuff, but when you’re being serious, most don’t want to change a thing. But we always try to improve the areas that people don’t buy a ticket for, but that improve people’s experience, like improving road access, stuff like that. Tenants lager is a great sponsor, too. They’ve been with us right from the start, and they’re part of the fabric of the event. It’s the longest running music sponsorship program certainly in the UK, since ’94, and the audience even paint the sponsor’s logo on their tents. A lot of people turn up for fancy dress Friday dressed as a can of Tenant’s lager. It’s the sense of community and belonging amongst the crowd. It’s not like a normal gig. It’s almost like a right of passage.

As published on, November 2009.

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